So where were we?
Ah, yes. Joel (Pedro Pascal), Tess (Anna Torv), and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) have just barely escaped the Boston Quarantine Zone, but not without brutally beating the crap out of (probably killing) a FEDRA officer and finding out that Ellie tests positive for the fungal infection that brought the world to its knees. No biggie, right?
Episode 2 is finally here! I’ve wanted to binge this series badly, but I love that I have the chance to theorize and discuss it with friends. Who would have thought that old-school weekly episode drops would ramp up anticipation and drive a buzz around the show? HBO, that’s who. Let’s get on with Episode 2!
The episode starts in Jakarta, Indonesia, before the outbreak. Remember that news broadcast in the Millers’ Kitchen where we find out Joel and Tommy stink at Geography in episode one? Same place!
A leading Indonesian Mycologist (expert in fungi) is escorted by military personnel to a laboratory to examine a cordyceps sample. The professor cannot believe that this came from a human, so she dons a hazmat suit and performs her own examination. She extracts a sample from a wound on the corpse’s ankle and then one from its mouth. The fungus is still freaking alive, and the tendrils are reaching for her! The fungus lives even after the host has shuffled off their mortal coil!
The professor is told that the infection originated in a flour and grain factory, which she is unsurprised about as cordyceps can thrive in these conditions. This was the same theory the amazing guys from the Watching Now: The Last of Us podcast, The Rest of Us, posed last week! Our very own Lily, Erika, and Nick will be with you weekly to give you breakdowns, insights, and great theories like this one wherever you get your podcasts on Tuesdays and on Youtube on Wednesdays.
Like in the first episode, the opening chilled me to my soul. Patient Zero is still out there. There is no treatment, and there is no hope for a vaccine. The only option is to “bomb this city and everyone in it.” In short, eradication. It didn’t work perfectly, though, did it…?
Back with our heroes(?) Joel, Tess, and Ellie. The adults have not slept, watching their cargo like a hawk, ensuring her conversion into an infected monster doesn’t take. After a short interrogation, we find out that Ellie was bitten three weeks earlier and somehow has still not turned. She then breaks her promise to Marlene and tells Joel and Tess about a lab in the West where they are working on a vaccine. They need her because she’s immune.
They seem unconvinced, but Tess persuades Joel to resume their task, thinking of the rewards they would receive from the fireflies on delivery. Although this decision was almost scuppered by an ill-timed and ill-advised Ellie joke pretending to transform into an infected monster, they continue escorting Ellie to the Capitol building.
As they exit their temporary accommodation, the door clicks loudly, perhaps a portent for what is to come. They set out across Boston, briefly stopping at a crater caused by a bomb blast at the start of the pandemic. Bombs were used to slow the spread of infection. In Boston, its use was fairly successful. The landscape is beautifully post-apocalyptic. The streets have been largely reclaimed by nature with moss and wild foliage growing almost everywhere and the roads and buildings are mostly in ruin. This is punctuated by an iconic frame taken straight from the video game of one skyscraper leaning on another, so close to collapsing altogether.
Ellie asks Tess and Joel about the different types of infected they’ve encountered, unknowingly describing a Clicker or Stalker and a Bloater from the video games. The most interesting thing about the description of a Bloater is that they can tear off parts of themselves and throw them like projectiles that will release fungal spores. Yes, SPORES! Is there hope yet for people who are missing those atmospheric moments from the games? Ok, so Tess shot down Ellie, saying “boy, I hope not” but that just means she hasn’t seen one, right? Right? Hopefully, it will eventually happen but I’m not optimistic for this season.
An inhuman scream interrupts their chat, so our group decides to take a route through a hotel to get to their destination, the long but easy way. It’s at this point we learn that Ellie can’t swim, a detail that is sure to be important later!
Ten floors up, Tess finds a problem, looking at their supposedly “easy way.” A swarm of infected has migrated into their path like a deadly herd of sheep. Tess teaches Ellie about how the fungus is interconnected, sometimes for miles underground, and she tells her that if you alert one, then the whole swarm is alerted. A deadly, hive-mind herd of sheep that will do anything to infect you with their wiggly worm-infested mouths. Screw that; sheep are too cute. Wasps. Let’s go with wasps. Wasps suck.
The hard way it is, then.
The last time Joel and Tess were at the Museum, it was infested with fungus. Not ideal. Joel tests a tendril on the ground outside. He finds it bone dry, a good sign that the infected have also deserted the area or shriveled and died like the one plastered to the wall in the first episode. Our group risks entry.
Inside, they find more dry fungus, hardened infected bodies, and … a man who was freshly mauled to death. Tess and Joel know what this means. They stress to Ellie that they all must be completely silent before pressing on upstairs. The tense climb is accentuated by one massive crunch and a few tremors in the decrepit building. The coast looks clear.
But it wasn’t. They are faced with not one but two Clickers. This type of infected is completely blind but has excellent hearing. In the games, they can use echo-location (like Marvel’s Daredevil) to see, but it’s unclear whether they can in the TV show. Our group tries to stay as quiet as possible, frozen in fear after encountering these grotesque beasts.
But it’s at this moment my gameplay is cemented in canon. Joel fails at stealth immediately and misses 50% of his shots using a revolver.
After a fearsome struggle and failed distraction tactics, the two Clickers are killed. Ellie has been bitten in the struggle, a clever departure from the games, allowing a new way for her to prove that she’s immune. I found it hilarious that she was bitten on the arm, and all she needed was a bandage. In the games, when a med-kit is applied, Joel bandages an arm. It doesn’t matter if he was shot, stabbed, or punched; a bandage would do the trick!
Ellie walks across a narrow wooden bridge three stories up nonchalantly. The scene is identical to the one at the same point in the game. Tess has a newly twisted ankle that Joel tapes up, but she hastens the group, wanting to get to the Capitol building by sundown.
The outside of the Capitol building is deserted, with abandoned trucks littering the street. Tess, irritated, hurries inside on seeing a trail of blood, uncharacteristically reckless. The Fireflies within, the ones that they were supposed to hand Ellie over to, are dead, a mixture of infected and clean corpses. Ah, crap. How are they going to get their supplies to find Tommy now?
Tess breaks down. She’s been bitten by one of the Clickers off-camera, and it looks hella nasty! “Our luck was going to run out sometime, right?” she says. And, on comparing her wound to Ellies, she convinces Joel to proceed onward to Bill and Frank’s. They’ll know what to do. Pedro’s performance as Joel’s heart breaks is excellent.
When an infected bursts into life, Joel puts him down. They are in big trouble. The underground fungus connected to all of the infected in the area is alerted.
Tess convinces Joel to leave with Ellie while she buys them time to escape. In a tear-inducing farewell, Tess tells Joel to “save who you can save”, before they part ways for good. Joel drags a protesting Ellie out of the building whilst Tess prepares a trap for the incoming swarm, tipping barrels of fuel and prepping grenades.
The infected largely ignore Tess when they enter the building. She pulls out her lighter (modeled on a lighter from one of Naughty Dog’s other games, Uncharted 4) and attempts to blow the place to smithereens. But the lighter is struggling to ignite…
An infected calmly ambles towards her, pinning her against a wall. What then transpires is what can only be described as the most sickening kiss in pop culture since Leia smooched her brother Luke in Star Wars.
No, wait, it’s definitely worse. The creature’s mouth protrudes with those horrid fungal worms entering Tess’ mouth to seal the deal.
Thankfully, the lighter finally ignites, and Joel and Ellie see the building explode, infected tumbling out of the doors covered in flames. Tess sacrificed herself for them. Let’s hope it’s not in vain.
I am disappointed that a few scenes are missing that appear in the video game. There’s one section where the gang has to traverse a window-cleaning rig outside of a skyscraper. Also missing is one of the tensest encounters of the game, where you have to sneak past multiple Clickers and Runners in an underground shopping complex. It’s one of the sections that I died most frequently on! Neither are necessary to the overall story, but they’re just cool! However, these are just nitpicks.
This was a terrific follow-up to the first episode. It plugged some gaps that were created by choices in the first episode, like giving Joel a good reason to believe Ellie is immune to cordyceps. We met some new concepts with our zombie-like beasts, allowing us more insight into how the tendrils work. And, you know what? I think the hive-mind-like concept is even more scary than the games! And those Clickers! The make-up artists and practical effects artists deserve all of the awards to make such a gross design come to life with minimal CG.
The story, again, hit the same highs and lows as the games, with Tess’ death as poignant and heart-breaking as ever. How will Joel ever recover?
Find out next week on “How-Can-We-Break-An-Already-Broken-Man?”